EDF Health

Paper mills as a significant source of PFAS contamination, but who’s watching?

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant

Across the country, communities are grappling with how to manage contamination of drinking water by perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs), a class of chemicals widely used in consumer products, industrial processes, and firefighting foams. Concern over the chemicals grew with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 release of a 70 parts per trillion (ppt) drinking water health advisory for PFOA and PFOS, two common and well-studied forms of PFASs.

One challenge to effectively evaluating the potential impacts of PFASs as well as cleaning up priority sites is that there is very little information on where these chemicals are being used. Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FDA, EDF obtained documents previously not made public that show that paper mills using PFASs may be a significant source of contamination to water and potentially to air and compost.

In the nearly 900 documents we received from FDA, we found environmental assessments in four Food Contact Substance Notifications (FCNs) submitted in 2009-2010 by two companies, Daikin America and Chemours.[1] FDA approved each notice, allowing the companies to sell their PFASs to make paper and paperboard repel oil and grease in food packaging such as pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers, and microwave popcorn bags. All four assessments based their estimates on what they called a “typical” paper mill that produces 825 tons of PFAS-coated paper per day and discharges 26 million gallons of water per day.[2]

  • Chemours FCN 885 estimated 95 pounds/day of its PFAS[3] in the wastewater discharge at 43,000 ppt.
  • Chemours FCN 1027 – a notification for the same PFAS – increased the amount in paper from 0.42% to 0.8% resulting in 183 pounds per day in the wastewater discharge at 83,000 ppt.
  • Daikin FCN 933 estimated 180 pounds/day of its PFAS[4] in the wastewater discharge at 83,000 ppt.
  • Daikin FCN 1044 estimated 225 pounds/day of a similar PFAS[5] in the wastewater discharge at 103,000 ppt.

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Lead in water at child care facilities: Preliminary results from EDF’s pilot

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

When choosing a child care facility, parents weigh numerous factors – like cost, distance to their home, comfort with the staff – with the goal of providing safe care to their child. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know if the facility where the child care program is located itself may present health risks – like lead in the drinking water.

The vast majority of schools and child care facilities are not required to test their drinking water for lead under federal requirements. While much of the attention has been on schools, we find that childcare is relatively overlooked, even though water is the most significant source of lead for formula fed infants. In earlier blogs, we talked about state and local testing requirements and levels in hot water.

We tested at 11 child care facilities and found lead in drinking water in at least one sample at seven facilities above our 3.8 ppb action level, four facilities above 20 ppb, and two facilities above 80 ppb.

To explore lead in drinking water at child care facilities further, EDF conducted a pilot project to investigate new approaches for lead in water testing and remediation in childcare settings.  Our pilot utilized and expanded on EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water.

We will be releasing a report that will detail our full process, results, and recommendations for addressing lead in water in child care settings. In the meantime, we wanted to share our preliminary takeaways and recommendations below as well as a fact sheet on our project. Read More »

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Lead in hot water – an issue worth testing

Preliminary testing results: 50% (7 of 14) of water heater tanks tested in child care centers had levels over 50 ppb with one at 2,680 ppb. For all but one of these, flushing through the tank drain significantly reduced the lead levels in the water heater. At the hot water tap, only 4 of 161 (2%) samples were above EDF's action level (3.8 ppb). Water heaters may function as “lead traps,” but more investigation is needed. Best to avoid using hot water for cooking or drinking.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director. Analysis conducted by Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager.

Last March, I was giving a talk on lead and drinking water at the National Lead and Healthy Housing Conference. A questioner from a state health department asked me why the standard lead testing methods only sample cold water when experience suggests that people use hot water when making infant formula, dissolving powered drinks, and cooking food. After mumbling for a few minutes that people are supposed to drink cold water, I realized that I really didn’t know the answer – but should.

When risk assessment ignores real life, we are bound to miss something important. For hot water, I think we may be.

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American Water lays out a plan for replacing lead pipes in its Indiana systems

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Updated May 4, 2018: The IURC issued an order on March 7 scheduling an evidentiary hearing for May 7, 2018 at 9:30 am at its offices in Indianapolis.  In advance of the meeting, the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor,  the state agency representing taxpayers interests, filed a brief supporting Indiana American Water's proposal to replace LSLs using ratepayer funds with six modifications.  No parties opposed the proposal.  In response, Indiana American Water accepted some but not all of the modifications.

The Indiana subsidiary of American Water Company filed a plan in January 2018 with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to fully replace lead service lines (LSLs) in the communities it serves within the next 10 to 24 years. The company estimates that 50,000 of its 300,000 customers in the state have lead pipe in a portion of the service line connecting the main under the street with the building.

The plan is the first submitted to the IURC in response to legislation enacted by the Indiana General Assembly in April 2017 and authored by Rep. Heath VanNatter. If the IURC approves the plan, the company can seek Commission approval to include LSL replacement on private property as an eligible infrastructure improvement whose costs can be covered by rates paid by customers.

With the plan, American Water is essentially embracing the goal articulated by EPA’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council and the American Water Works Association that the United States needs to eliminate LSLs. We applaud that goal and American Water’s commitment – while it will take time to achieve, people should not be drinking water through lead pipes, even with optimal corrosion control. Read More »

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Wisconsin law removes crucial barrier to lead pipe replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Sam Lovell, Project Specialist

Yesterday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that takes an important step to replacing the 240,000 lead service lines (LSLs) in communities across the state. SB-48 allows municipalities and water utilities to provide financial assistance to property owners to replace LSLs on private property. We described the legislation in an earlier blog – and applauded the critical work of state advocates in building support for the law.

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Overwhelming local support for EPA Chemical Assessment Program: Communities impacted by PFC contamination urge Congress to maintain critical program

Samantha Lovell is a Project Specialist.

Today, a letter signed by more than 100 people was submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging Congress to protect the EPA Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program. The signatories come from dozens of communities across the country impacted by PFC contamination in drinking water. EPA’s IRIS program develops critical assessments of chemicals, like PFCs, that support a wide variety of decision-making from clean-up levels at contaminated sites to setting standards that ensure clean drinking water.

As we have blogged about previously, IRIS is a non-regulatory program within EPA’s science arm that produces top-tier chemical hazard assessments used across EPA program and regional offices, other federal agencies, and state and local governments to protect public health. IRIS scientists are also called on during emergency and other rapid response situations, when technical expertise is paramount and time is of the essence.

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